My dad and I were on our way south, moving through rolling farmland. The sun was bright and the fields were green. It felt as though we were in a Grant Wood painting, caught between the smallness of our lives and the grandness of the sky. High above, stark white clouds cast shadows on the highway.
“Are we in Iowa yet?” I asked.
“We’ve been in Iowa for quite a while,” he responded.
“Do you want me to look at the map?”
“If you want to.”
We were also headed back in time, on a rescue mission of sorts. With me I had an audio recorder and a bunch of questions. For several years, I had been researching and writing about stories – about the way we use them to stitch ourselves together with the world around us. But I didn’t have a full picture of my own family’s story. I was sure I could find more pieces that would help me trace the links in the chain leading from my life into the past.
I had come across some fascinating studies on family stories and the power they have over us. In recent years, researchers have noted that children in families that eat dinner together often have better emotional health and are happier and more resilient than their peers. This has less to do with eating together than it does with the fact that family dinners provide space for stories to emerge. And knowing your family stories can make a real difference in your life.